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The wind howls between the wooden houses, causing the fires to flare momentarily before settling back to their former steady blaze. The center of town is full with adults bustling about; setting up what will be a massive bonfire. Their children peek out of windows, anxiously waiting to know what's going on.
From the furthest hut, a tall, lithe man steps out into the chilly evening. His cloak billows around him, and his right hand tightens on his staff; which looks similar to a shepherd's, but his is obviously hand carved from a tree branch. He glances forlornly at the giant wood pile, brown eyes silently wishing it away.
"Papa?" a small voice asks from behind. The man turns to face his young doppelganger, bending down so that they're at eye level.
"Papa, they have a Spirit, don't they?" the boy asks again, brown eyes that should hold innocence meeting his father's weary ones with determination.
The man smiles, patting the child's mess of brown hair gently. "And why do you think that, Jack?"
Jack sighs, lowering his gaze. "The other adults aren't letting their kids outside; and the Wind's angry."
The boy's father starts, blinking rapidly. "'The Wind's angry?'" he asks, staring at his son intently.
Jack nods. "Yeah; the last time a Spirit was caught we couldn't go outside and the Wind wouldn't stop howling. It blew out the fire so many times; you remember, right?"
The man nods. "Yes, I remember—"He's cut off by a shout from behind.
"John! Gather the children; we've got enough wood."
The man nods, waving the other villager away. He turns back to his son.
"Jack, I need you to go get your cloak and shoes; and help your sister too. Make sure she's bundled up tight."
"But isn't it too cold outside for her? Can't she stay with Mama like last time?"
John shakes his head. "No; your mother's the one that caught the Spirit this time, so she has to participate in the Banishing. Just wrap Jane in her blanket and hold her close; use your body to block the wind." John starts to leave but then turns around, adding, "Meet me by the forest, but do not enter it! You must wait for me!" He stares hard at his son before disappearing into the darkness.
Jack watches his father go before closing the door and running to his sister's bed.
"Jane…" he shakes the small girl, causing her short brown bangs to fall into her face. "Jane, wake up! We gotta' go into the woods with papa!"
"'Ack?" she asks sleepily, rubbing her eyes. Jack helps her put on her shoes and tightly wraps her in her thick brown blanket. Slipping on his own shoes and throwing on his cloak, he picks up the already nodding off child and dashes out the door.
He gets to the forest just as his father does; the other village children in tow.
"Come on kids; down to the lake, hurry now," he says, ushering the slower children with his staff. "Jack, you know the way, right?"
"'Course!" Jack replies indignantly. "I only go there every other day."
John sighs. "Then lead them there while I take the back."
Jack nods and rushes to the front; nimbly hopping over fallen logs.
"Come on everybody! Should I turn this into a race?" he shouts, and the other kids rush forward with renewed energy. Jack stays ahead easily, only pausing to throw back taunts to spur them on when they run out of energy. In no time at all, the odd party reaches the lake, the stars reflecting off the clear, wave less surface.
Most of the children collapse on the shore, breath clouding above them. After counting to make sure everyone made it, John joins his son in looking up at the sky.
"There's no moon," Jack says after a moment.
John smiles; digging the butt of his staff into the ground and leaning against it. "How do you know? It could just not have risen yet."
Jack shakes his head, his chin bumping into Jane's head. "No. The moon's not going to appear tonight."
The pair falls into a comfortable silence. The wind whistles slightly, and Jack shifts his sister onto his other hip.
"Want me to take her?" John asks, letting his staff rest on his shoulder and holding out his hands.
"I'm fine. She's not that heavy."
"You got that right; you were twice her weight at that age."
Jack looks sharply up at his father. "What's that supposed to mean?!"
John throws his head back in laughter, smacking his knee at his son's facial expression.
"If I wasn't holding Jane I'd push you into the lake!" Jack threatens, stomping his feet.
"If anyone's going to be wet, it'll be you," John chuckles.
"Mind if I take you up on that promise?" a voice asks behind them before a pair of ashen hands grab Jack and chuck him into the air. His eyes widen in shock, and his mouth is open in a silent scream as he sails through the night. Instinctually curling himself around Jane; the pair splashes into the frigid water five meters from the shore.
"Jack!" John screams; taking a step forward before a dark blade is stabbed between his shoulder blades. He gasps in surprise, his eyes rolling back in his head before he collapses.
Jack's lungs feel like they're going to burst. He wonders for a wild moment how Jane's feel.
Jane! He thinks; forcing his numb legs to slice through the water, pushing his way towards what he hopes is the surface. Without the moon to shed its soft glow, the darkness under the lake looks the same as the air above it. Just when he's about to give up, his head breaks free of the heavy water, and he sucks in clean air. Dragging Jane up with him, he nearly faints as she sputters and coughs to clear her lungs. But his relief is short lived; her lips are already turning blue.
Squinting heavily, Jack spins to face the land closest to him. Gripping Jane's blanket tightly, he paddles with one hand.
Good thing it's not too windy; or the waves would be impossible, Jack pants as he struggles with the dead weight slowing his limbs. His mouth momentarily dips back into the water, and Jack fills with dread. He isn't going to make it.
No! He will not fail his sister! Father still has so much to teach her!
Surging forward with the last of his strength, Jack stumbles forward as his feet hit muddy earth. Falling on his shoulder, he drags himself forward inch by inch; collapsing on the beach, still half-in the water. Pulling Jane closer, he tries to give her the last of his warmth as he passes into the black void of unconsciousness.
The first thing Jack hears is the wind. It sounds so sad; wailing like it's lost a friend. Maybe it has, how should Jack know? He's probably dead right now anyway.
Warmth brushes gently against his eyelids, and a hand caresses his cheek. He sighs slightly, but that apparently irritates his throat and it turns into a coughing fit.
"He's awake, he's awake!" Someone shouts, causing Jack to wince. He forces his heavy eyes to open, and he's blinded by the candle right next to his head. Turning away, he blearily focuses on the worried blue gaze of his mother.
"Ma…?" he rasps, trying to push away the haze in his mind. Her hand lightly touches his face again, brushing away the bangs that fall into his eyes.
"Shhh, honey, I'm right here; I won't go anywhere."
"J…ane…" Jack swallows difficultly as his mother continues to stroke his forehead.
"Jane's okay, she fell asleep just a minute ago," his mother soothes, releasing his face and taking his hand.
"What….about…papa?" Jack's vision dims, and he fights to stay awake. He needs to know if the man threw him into the lake too.
His mother's eyes fill with tears; one breaking loose and landing on Jack's upturned palm. "Jack…Your father's dead. Something attacked him and the other children; they're all gone."
The words don't sink in immediately, and Jack blinks before his own eyes water.
"Dead? Pa can't be dead, he hasn't taught us everything! He—" Jack breaks off as another round of breath-stealing coughs grip his lungs. His mother's hold tightens, and after a minute the shaking stops.
Tears streak down his face, and Jack stops fighting sleep. Plunging back into the darkness that so closely resembles the lake, Jack fervently wishes he never wakes up again.
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